Pac-12 season preview: Utes set to kick off conference slate Friday at Arizona

SALT LAKE CITY — Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utah Utes have fared extremely well in non-conference play. Including bowls, they’re 24-1 in such contests. And with the addition of this season’s triumphs over North Dakota (37-16), BYU (19-13) and San Jose State (54-16), the run of success has now reached 19 straight games.

On Friday, the 21st-ranked Utes embark upon their seventh Pac-12 campaign. They face Arizona (2-1) in Tucson. Eight conference contests follow as they seek their first undisputed South Division title and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

“Well, the level of competition certainly goes up. We are aware of that,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “You play the games as they are scheduled and we have done what we are supposed to do in the first three.”

Even so, Whittingham acknowledged there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

“It is still so early in the year, so we are still finding out about ourselves, what our strengths are, what we need to get better at,” Whittingham said. “This will definitely be our stiffest test of the year.”

As such, Whittingham added that the only thing the Utes are really concerned with is the Wildcats.

“So away we go with the Pac-12,” he said.

Projected order of finish, as per the conference’s preseason media poll:

North Division

1. WASHINGTON HUSKIES (3-0, 0-0): The defending Pac-12 champions are ranked No. 7 in the nation after notching non-conference wins over Rutgers (30-14), Montana (63-7) and Fresno State (48-16). Senior wide receiver Dante Pettis has returned a punt for a touchdown in all three games this season. Pettis is also the top target of highly touted junior quarterback Jake Browning. Senior linebacker Keishawn Bierria, who led the nation with five fumble recoveries last year, is part of a defense that has yet to give up a touchdown on the ground.

2. STANFORD CARDINAL (1-2, 0-1): After opening the season with a 62-7 win over Rice in Australia, things haven’t gone so well on the mainland. The Cardinal have dropped two straight road games since then — falling at USC (42-24) and San Diego State (20-17). Junior running back Bryce Love has been a bright spot, though. Love has already rushed for 524 yards this season. Senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips tops the team in tackles, thus far, with…

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